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Inking out a great Christmas for kids

For about 100 years, the Toys for Tots program has been making Christmas merry for Douglas County children. Superior firefighters have been part of it since the start.

"They used to make and fix broken toys," said program coordinator Les Luder, a driver with the Superior Fire Department. This year, the program is getting a shot of enthusiasm from a local daycare, and oddly it may seem, Superior tattoo shops.

"Tats for Tots" launched Saturday at Superior businesses -- Scaws Ink, True Colors Tattoo, and Ink. Black Lagoon Tattoo plans to join in when the shop reopens Nov. 2.

Don't let the name confuse you, said organizer Gerald Osgan.

"It's tattoos for tots, not tattoos on tots," he said.

Donations of new toys for Toys for Tots are accepted at all four locations through Nov. 20. Each gift nets customers a discount on a tattoo or gift certificate.

"The better the toy, the better the discount," said Larry Kallberg, owner of Scaws Ink, which is in the process of doubling its floor plan at 5905 Tower Ave. The shops also serve as drop-off site for toys from folks who don't have any interest in a new tattoo. The gifts will be held in a secure location, then dropped off at the fire hall in time for toy distribution Dec. 15-16.

Osgan said he wanted to do something different for the cause. As far as organizers can tell, it's the first toy drive of its kind in Douglas County. It's also, said Kallberg, a chance to change a few perceptions.

Instead of the stereotypical tattoo parlor from decades ago, he urged, people can come "see what we are today ... We're people just like them."

Scaws Ink and Black Lagoon, 1018 Ogden Ave., have already pledged $500 each for the program.

Osgan said he'll take the donated money with him at 3 a.m. on Black Friday, looking for the best toy deals. In particular, he'll be targeting teens.

"They're the forgotten few, the teens," Luder said. Some of the teen-targeted items that fly out the door during distribution include sleeping bags, alarm clocks and necessities such as shampoo.

Volunteers new and old keep the Toys for Tots program vibrant.

When Osgan approached Luder about launching "Tats for Tots," it was invigorating.

"He's very enthusiastic," Luder said. "That's a blessing."

Another dose of energy came from New Horizons Children's Center in the Mariner Mall.

Families and staff collected more than 150 toys during a "Christmas in July" event. It was the theme of the center's 4th of July float, which included a tree, toys and a fireplace boasting handprint "flames." They asked families to bring in toys from May through July and held a bake sale to raise money to purchase more.

"We knew where we wanted the toys to go," said New Horizons Director Amy Benson.

On Oct. 11, they formed a bucket brigade to hand the toys out to a Superior fire rig.

"They had a lot of fun with it," Luder said. "It was uplifting to see what they were doing."

The Toys for Tots program provides presents for an average of 1,200 children a year. With the current economy, Luder said, "It is without a doubt a tough year." But he's confident they'll make it through with the help of toy drives and individual gifts, many of which shower on the fire department within the last three or four days before distribution.

Families from throughout Douglas County can begin signing up for holiday help -- Toys for Tots, Christmas food baskets, the Adopt a Family program and the Teen Shop -- from Nov. 5-30 at the Salvation Army, 916 Hughitt Ave. Sign up hours will be 10 a.m. to noon and 1-3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday and 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. In order to apply for the programs, people must present a photo ID, proof of address (such as a utility bill or other piece of mail) and social security cards for all members of the family.

Scaws Ink is in the process of expanding, in part due to good neighbors and community support.

"Thank you to all the customers who came through here, the community who stood beside me," Kallberg said. "I've made a lot of friends since I've opened."

Being involved in "Tats for Tots" is one way to give back.

"We want kids to have a great Christmas," Osgan said. And seeing packages under the tree can provide them with a big morale boost.

How many toys are they hoping to get through "Tats for Tots?" If one toy was donated to each shop each day, that would total 120 toys. But, dreaming big, Kallberg said they hoped to hit one million.

"We just really want to help the kids," he said.

Scaws Ink is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Toys can also be dropped off at Ink, 1212 Tower Ave., and True Colors Tattoo, 2301 E. Fifth St. or any of the Superior fire halls.

Volunteers are also needed to help with toy distribution. To volunteer, call Luder at the main fire hall, 715-394-0227.